‘Disproportionately low’ number of care provider complaints stifling sector improvement – Ombudsman

A “disproportionately low” number of complaints about independent care providers is preventing the sector from learning and improving, the social care ombudsman has warned.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman received 3,073 complaints and inquiries about council-organised and private social care in England in the 2019-20 financial year.

Just 430 concerned private providers, 14% of the total, according to its annual review of adult social care complaints.

The Ombudsman believes the independent sector is “missing out on an untapped seam of valuable learning and potential improvements”.

Ombudsman Michael King (pictured) said the number of complaints from people who fund their own care has plateaued in recent years, calling this “particularly concerning”.

He added: “Each missed complaint is a lost opportunity to improve care services.”

He is calling for the Government to make it mandatory for all providers to tell people how they can complain, and how they can escalate this to the Ombudsman.

Mr King said: “The social care complaints system in England is not a voluntary scheme, but the current level of engagement varies considerably.

“This is placing greater burdens on more conscientious providers while allowing weaker operators to avoid public accountability.

“This undermines fair competition and consumer choice. Instead, there should be a level playing field, where the rules are applied consistently – in the best interests of users and businesses.”

The Ombudsman found fault in 69% of the care complaints it investigated over 2019-20.

This rose to 71% for cases concerning independently provided care.

One of its investigations found that one care home’s failure to properly investigate falls contributed to the avoidable death of a resident.

The county council which owned the home agreed to apologise to the woman’s brother, make a payment to a charity of his choice, and pay for a memorial.

The body made recommendations in 687 cases, with only two instances of providers failing to implement what the Ombudsman had requested.

The coronavirus lockdown, announced in late March, meant it paused casework, but it is now receiving new complaints.

The body said: “We stand ready to investigate all concerns about people’s care during the crisis and guarantee a truly independent analysis of the facts.”

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: “We always welcome any new learning that providers can take from these reports and similarly we welcome the annual review which brings everything together.”

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